Much is different about the Husson University football program this season. It has a new head coach, a new quarterback and a new conference affiliation.
Beyond those changes rests a consistent philosophy that has guided the Eagles through most of their history in the sport since the Bangor school reinstituted varsity play in 2003.
“Running the football, stopping the run and protecting the quarterback, those have been the trademarks of the program,” new head coach Nat Clark said.
Clark was named the program’s fourth head coach in February after serving as the top assistant for 12 years under retired Eagles’ coach Gabby Price. That continuity is expected to show as the Eagles seek to contend for a fifth NCAA Division III tournament bid in the last six years.
“We certainly hope to have the same amount of success,” Clark said. “I certainly believe in everything we’ve been doing up to this point. If there is any change it will be very subtle. We have the bulk of the staff back, the continuity’s good and we practice the same way.”
The Eagles, who dominated the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference in recent years, likely will face a stiffer challenge as a first-year member of Commonwealth Coast Conference Football.
That league, led by Massachusetts institutions Western New England University and Endicott College — the only teams ranked ahead of Husson in the CCC preseason poll — offers the potential of heightened competition and a more defined regional recruiting and travel base for the Eagles.
“We know it’s going to be a step up. We know that certainly the competition is going to be a little more fierce each week and the games are going to be a little closer, but I think the guys are really embracing that,” Clark said.
The new affiliation has achieved a long-term goal for Husson leadership.
“That was a dream for us when Gabby, myself and the rest of the coaches first came here, to be in a New England league.”
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Husson’s ability to compete in the CCC — which also includes the University of New England of Biddeford — at the outset will have its foundation along the line of scrimmage.
All-ECFC first-team left tackle and junior tri-captain Jake Cameron anchors the offensive front, joined by senior right guard Collin Spence, senior left guard Jordan Davis, senior center Josh Goddard of Brunswick and sophomore right tackle Tom Emery, a transfer from Norwich University who started 10 games for the Cadets last fall.
The defensive front will feature another All-ECFC first-teamer in junior end and tri-captain Frank Curran of Portland and All-ECFC second-team junior end Derek Barden. They flank junior tackle Billy Campbell of Hampden and sophomore tackle David Redmond of Westbrook.
All-ECFC second-team choice Kaleb Caron of West Gardiner returns at one linebacker slot, joined by senior Matt Montford.
“Up front will be a strength for us on both sides of the ball,” Clark said.
One of Husson’s biggest tasks is to replace graduated All-ECFC quarterback Cory Brandon. The Eagles turn to another veteran in senior David Morrison, who has completed 55 percent of his passes in limited duty as Brandon’s backup over the last two years.
“[Morrison’s] an athletic, big kid, well built with a good arm, and he’s been in the system for three years and we haven’t changed the system,” Clark said. “What I like about him is he’s eager for the opportunity. He’s been sitting behind a very, very good quarterback for the last two years and he’s hungry.”
Morrison has some tall, experienced receiving targets led by 6-foot senior tri-captain Keyshaun Robinson and 6-2 junior Tyler Halls of Lisbon. Robinson, who earned first-team all-conference honors last fall (38 catches, 526 yards, seven touchdowns) while playing mostly tight end, will play slotback while Halls (28-318-3) will line up outside.
Aidan Hogan, a 6-4 junior, returns at tight end after missing six games last year with a broken foot, while 6-4 junior Pat Cullen is another big receiver.
Sophomore Shawn Noel Jr. and senior Bryan Cedeno head up what Clark describes as a committee approach at running back.
The defensive secondary also has a different look. Senior Zach Connolly is a returning starter, joined by classmates Nick Alvarez and Jackson Leonard of Holden and sophomores Da-Quan Patterson and Darterius Hall.
Senior Devin Pickett of Sidney is a third-year place-kicker and sophomore Aaron Paradis of Minot has won the punting job.
“We definitely have some new guys in some key spots,” Clark said, “but a lot of them have been here a couple of years and had 60-something practices and played in some games, which has helped them gain some experience.”
After an opening-week bye, Husson kicks off its schedule Saturday at UMass Dartmouth, the first of three nonconference games for the Eagles leading up to its Oct. 5 CCC opener at Becker College.
Husson’s home opener is Sept. 21 against Worcester Polytechnic Institute.